Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Employee Spotlight
Tim Baker proudly displays his Scottish heritage every year at the district's Diversity Day event.

Graphics Services Employee Works 24/7 for Caltrans--Literally!
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 04/2009

Audio visual Assistant Tim Baker provides studio skills on a Caltrans budget.

Tim Baker has a day job and a night job. By day, he is an Audio Visual Assistant for District 7's Graphics Services office. By night, he does special effects work for TV and movie studios. But, like one of those dreams that sort of stays with you during waking hours, the night job often merges into the Caltrans work and vice versa.

“I don’t sleep much,” Baker says, “maybe two or three hours a night.” He has a workshop in back of his house in which he makes whatever the studios (or Caltrans) needs—miniatures, models, special effects makeup—“It all depends on the show.” Recent work includes the soon-to-air Bob Saget show, “Surviving Suburbia,” and the popular HBO series “Entourage.”

How does he get this work? “After 20 years in the business, I know so many people that someone just calls when they need something wacky that they can’t just go buy someplace.”

Twenty years? Maybe a little history is in order. Baker comes from the Central Valley town of Porterville, California, and attended school at Stephens College, a private university for women in Columbia, Missouri. He was one of two males among 5,000 women. No wonder he stayed long enough to obtain four Bachelors of Fine Arts degrees, two in Fine Arts and two in Theater Arts. Well, the full scholarship might also have been a factor.

“Right out of college I got theater jobs,” he says, working in Colorado for a few years and then off the coast of Florida for a couple of years, Chicago, Wisconsin, the Ozarks—about 40 states at one time or another. “I came here because of the (entertainment) industry,” he adds. “I got tired of theater. There is no money.You can live and have a good time and do really good work but you can’t make enough to even own a car.”

Plus, he wanted to do some different types of work. “I had already done as many sets with five doors and a couch as I think I could handle.” After he relocated to Los Angeles, he took some classes at the Institute for Studio Makeup in Hollywood, getting certified as a makeup artist and a special effects artist. “I’ve done fashion makeup and photo shoots and special effects makeup; it’s all the same,” he says.

Although the studio work is lucrative and seemingly abundant, Baker is very happy to be working for Caltrans, a job he has had since 1993. None of his friends in the industry is working right now. “They’re beginning to lose their houses because they haven’t worked in months, with worry about an actors’ strike causing many productions to be tabled," he says. Even the bad economy, which ironically is good for the entertainment business, has not helped. “So that’s why I have a day job and a night job and, luckily, I enjoy them both.”

Luckily, because it is Caltrans that reaps the benefit of Baker’s nightlife. For example, he does a lot of work on architectural models depicting bridges, overpasses, and other complex structures. “Because District 7 doesn’t have a department that does that anymore, I do it at home in my home studio,” he explains, where he has drills, grinders and plaster. “And it’s great, because that’s what Graphics Services is here for – to do what anyone needs.”

Baker also does a lot of photo retouching and currently is working for a project on the San Diego Freeway (I-405), a harbor interchange flyover. “It’s real complicated,” he says. “I put in soundwalls, I take out soundwalls. I put in extra lanes.” He reads plots, uses spider graphs and 3-dimentional imaging and sometimes will make a model and then photograph it to make everything look real. He also retouches pictures of the district executives, but you didn’t hear that from us.

Two other bits of information about Baker that may or may not influence his work: he has been a vegetarian for 22 years, ever since making a training video for the meat packing industry, and he is of Scottish descent, proudly wearing his kilt at all District 7 Diversity Day events. All part of the one-of-a-kind guy package. “For some of the stuff (models, etc.) Caltrans does, we hire consultants. I’m a lot cheaper than they are, though.”

No snow in Southern California? No problem! Baker puts his special effects skills to work creating snow for the distirct's Winter Driving event. Baker created this California Condor display for the Environmental Division. An artist at work -- this is how the sausage (er, snow) is made.